Soviet Children Fear the Dark: Mr. Rogers and the Call to Love Our Enemy

Soviet Children Fear the Dark: Mr. Rogers and the Call to Love Our Enemy September 26, 2016

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(image via Pixabay)

I’m on an Eastern Countries kick lately. Want to hear about the first time I ever heard of Russia? It was called the Soviet Union in those days. I heard about it on PBS, from Mister Rogers.

In 1988, you see, Mr. Rogers went to the Soviet Union, to guest host an episode of the Russian children’s program “Good Night, Little Ones.” He recorded the visit for his television neighbors at home; I was four. I watched Mr. Rogers every day.  On Monday, Mr. Rogers told us that he was going to show us about his trip to meet his friend Tatiana in Moscow, in the Soviet Union. I asked my parents what the Soviet Union was, and received some answer about the largest country in the world, a sad place where there were dangerous people who weren’t allowed to believe in God.

On Tuesday, Mr. Rogers showed the video of himself visiting the Soviet Union, cameraman in tow; there was presumably a translator somewhere behind the cameraman, but it looked as though he was wandering Moscow alone, speaking English to himself, in his blue sneakers and zipper sweater. He wondered at the colorful onion-domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral, in that sad country where dangerous people weren’t allowed to believe in God. He pulled out his worn and faded Daniel Striped Tiger puppet, to greet a gaggle of Russian Children. “Dosvedanya!” said Daniel Tiger, as the children went on their way. He went to the studio and guest-hosted the television show with Russian puppeteer Tatiana Vedeneeva.

On Thursday, Tatiana came to visit Mr. Rogers in Pittsburgh, at the television studio. Tatiana spoke even less English than Mr. Rogers spoke Russian, so she brought along a translator. The three of them sat in the little television house’s kitchen, sipping apple juice out of Styrofoam cups.

Mr. Rogers began his interview, to teach children about what it was like to live in the Soviet Union, by asking Tatiana how her own son was doing. Tatiana showed Mr. Rogers a picture of five-year-old Dmitri.

Mr. Rogers asked what Dmitri liked to do; Tatiana said he liked toy cars, but most of all, he liked to draw. Soviet children, said Tatiana, liked to draw, and to hear fairy tales; they had tables to sit at and beds to sleep in, just like American children.

On Mr. Roger’s questioning, Tatiana told us that Soviet children sometimes got frightened at night. Soviet children liked to listen to music. Then, Mr. Rogers showed her a song he’d written in her honor.

That was the end of the interview.

As I grew up, I learned more and more about Mr. Rogers and the life he led. He started every morning with a long period of prayer, and prayed before he wrote the scripts for his television shows. He was kind to everyone– everyone he interviewed on television became his personal friend, because he never allowed correspondence to lapse. He was surprised but pleased that his program became so popular; he’d never intended to become a celebrity. “The spirit informs us in so many ways,” he said at one of his interviews, visibly awed at what he’d ended up doing.

I privately include Mr. Rogers when I pray litanies, these days. I’m convinced Fred Rogers was a saint. I also believe he was prophet for his time and for ours, performing the absolutely necessary task of telling anyone who would listen that the children of our enemies like music, and are afraid of the dark.

This is a truth that we must never forget. Not now that we have a War on Terror instead of a Cold War; not ever, not as long as we live on this fallen world. We will always have personal and national enemies. There will always be people who scare us, and people who threaten us. There will be people who want us dead and people who don’t care if we die. There will be leaders on both sides who seek to manufacture tensions and deepen the ones that already exist. There will be violent people and cowards, religious zealots and violent atheists as well. Just about every aspect of our lives will be exploited as a cause for conflict. There will be wars, and our enemies will try to kill us.

And these enemies will have children who like to play with toy cars, and draw, and hear stories, and listen to music.

Our enemies have children who are afraid of the dark.

Your enemies are human beings, and they have children who are human beings. And whatever you do to your enemy, you also do to his children. There’s no way to keep them completely out of harm’s way. To react in violence to an enemy, is to endanger children who are afraid of the dark.

And those children will cry out to God for justice– perhaps not in a language you know, or with a prayer you recognize. But there is only one God, the Father Almighty, and I can’t imagine that He worries too much about whether the children’s theology was mistaken, when they prayed, in fear, in the dark.

And, whether or not you succeed in your campaign against your enemy, you will eventually die. Everyone does. When you die, you will face the Father Almighty, and He will tell you what you did to Him, when He wore the mask of an enemy’s child who liked music, and was afraid of the dark.

We will always have enemies. There will always be terrible, violent choices that must be made.  But we can never forget that, wherever our enemies are found, we will find children, little icons of the Father  Almighty, who fear the dark. And whatever happens to them, we will be held accountable.

 

 

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